Stepping out of your comfort zone, facing your fears, meeting fascinating people and overcoming obstacles on your own steam – solo travel is one of the best ways to learn about yourself and the world at large.
Unfortunately, women are often discouraged from taking off on their own, especially if they’re headed to certain parts of the globe. Here to dispel the myth of the fragile lone woman abroad are 14 intrepid solo female travellers who’ve seen and done it all – and are keen to share their stories of challenge and triumph in hopes of encouraging other women to embark on their own transformative solo adventures.
Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad
“One of the most touching experiences I’ve had was during my solo experience travelling in Northern Vietnam in 2011. It was my first-ever backpacking trip, and my first trip to Southeast Asia. I was nervous and out of my comfort zone, but a fellow traveller had told me I should contact this female motorcycle guide when I got to Sapa, Vietnam. So I did, and it ended up being an amazing, empowering experience.
“I spent 3 days with her touring the local villages, learning about the culture, eating meals with her, and I found out that she was the first woman in Sapa to start her own tours and was helping her other female friends by teaching them English and showing them how to give guided tours – how amazing! Years later, she told me that because of my blog, she had so many travellers reaching out to her that she was able to grow her business, train more women, and eventually she built and opened her own bed and breakfast. Her name is Hong, and we stay in touch to this day.”
Getting Comfortable In Your Own Skin
Brooke Saward of World of Wanderlust
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from travelling the world solo is one that has crept up on me over the years. It’s always difficult to look back through the lens of retrospection and remember how you felt – although you may remember how you acted. 7 years ago, when I took my first solo trip overseas, I remember being nervous, shy and much more concerned about what others thought of me. Fast forward to 2019, and I’m the most comfortable I’ve been in my own skin – and I wholeheartedly believe that’s because I spent so much time alone, coming to understand my thoughts, mood swings, what makes me happy and, more importantly, what doesn’t. I’ve learned to put my best foot forward even on days I don’t feel like it, because often the best adventure is the one you don’t see coming.”
Finding Sisters Everywhere
Suzie Agelopoulos of Suzieagelopoulos.com
“I looked around the packed van in Cairo and thought, my parents would just die if they saw me right now! I was sitting between two Egyptian couples, the women in hijabs unapologetically smashed up against me. We were on our way to Alexandria, and let’s be real: can you really call yourself a traveller if you’re not doing it like a local? It was getting steamy in that van, but we weren’t able to leave until it filled. They don’t waste precious resources, and they sure as heck don’t waste time driving anywhere with a half-filled van of locals. So we waited.
“The women kept their eyes on me. I thought it was because I stood out like a sore thumb. I imagined they were sizing me up, waiting to tell me I did a horrible job covering my shoulders. Who would have thought they were actually monitoring my water intake and watching the bag I carelessly threw on the floor. We ended up talking about their dreams to travel the world, and all things Justin Timberlake! I stepped out of the van in Alexandria with a huge smile on my face. I knew my sisters were everywhere!”
Alice Teacake of Teacake Travels
“My mission as a solo female traveller has always been to reach my full potential by facing my fears and pushing my boundaries: it’s through leaving our comfort zone and facing challenges that we become far more adaptable, quick-thinking, stronger and wiser. Some of these challenges are ones we willingly throw ourselves into. I’ve happily driven all the way from the UK to Mongolia (and back) in a Toyota Yaris. I’ve hiked on the edge of mountains on tiny wooden planks in China. I’ve been a burlesque dancer in Shanghai and backpacked around Bangladesh solo when everybody told me not to.
“Yet life can throw highly challenging events at us that one wouldn’t expect. It was on a mountain edge in Vietnam where I found myself and my moped balancing dangerously on a narrow dirt road clinging to life. The skies opened. Torrential rain began to pelt down. The winds gasped and blew ferociously with full force, pushing me closer and closer to the point of no return. I clung onto that bike for dear life, praying I’d make it to the other side alive. Step by step I edged around with a death grip on the handlebars and finally reached cover from the elements. I caught my breath, laughed out loud, started my engine and have been counting my blessings ever since.”
Experiencing Unexpected Kindness
Stephanie Parker of Big World Small Pockets
“One of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had as a solo female traveller was the time I ventured to Sudan by myself. Having not met any other solo female travellers who had been to Sudan – in fact, I hardly met any travellers who had been there, full stop – it’s fair to say I felt a little intimidated by the proposition, and that’s despite being experienced in solo Africa adventures!
“Yup, the thought of Sudan scared me, but I bit the bullet, went anyway and encountered the most welcoming country I’ve visited yet! Mixing Middle Eastern hospitality with African friendliness, the generosity and kindness of the Sudanese people blew me away. I had shopkeepers who wouldn’t let me pay for goods, taxi drivers who wouldn’t take fares and even small market stall holders who would thrust handfuls of dried dates into my palms… and refuse my money. Everywhere I was greeted with smiles, helped with my luggage, assisted on public transport, welcomed into homes and offered a bed, food, water… you name it! From a country so economically disadvantaged, the sheer kindness of the beautiful Sudanese people was utterly inspiring, and instead of feeling fearful in Sudan, I can honestly say I’ve rarely felt safer!”
Christine Kaaloa of GRRRLTRAVELER
“Embracing serendipity has always been one of my greatest solo travel teachers, teaching me that the universe can often have a better plan for me when things go a bit off-track. My first solo trip was to India and Nepal. I started out travelling with friends, but when they decided to board a scam tour in Delhi – and I decided that I wanted to leave that tour midway – I quickly found myself alone. But I had never travelled abroad completely on my own, and a crash course solo trip in India was a huge step outside my comfort zone.
“Faced with two choices – to book the next flight out of India or continue my trip alone – I decided to embrace the opportunity in this turn of events. Although I had self-doubt and worry, the moment I committed to my new solo status, a rush of freedom, courage and survival instinct automatically snapped into place. I knew I would do whatever it took to survive and turn this trip into the best trip of my life (which it was)! Today, when travel plans go awry, I look for the silver lining and the secret transformative opportunity to seize the adventure, grow beyond myself, and become my own epic story.”
Stephanie Huff of The Pink Backpack
“When I first told my family that I planned to travel through Africa solo, I was met with shock. In fact, since relocating to East Africa, I’ve received an array of responses. The truth is, during my overland journey from South Africa to Kenya, and in the time that has followed as an expat in Mwanza, Tanzania, I’ve never once felt unsafe. Sure, I’ve felt challenged: challenged to learn a new language, to deconstruct my preconceived beliefs, to acknowledge my white privilege. But I’ve also felt inspired: by the communities and organisations I met who are making a difference, by the sheer beauty of the diverse landscapes and people. I’ve even felt loved, by new friends and the complete strangers who have gone out of their way to help me.
“While it’s true that some parts of Africa are currently unstable, the parts I visited were safe and peaceful. Through blogging about my experiences as a solo female traveller in southern and eastern Africa, I hope to change readers’ perceptions of Africa and inspire other women to plan their own trip to the continent, too.”
Meeting Friendly Locals
Linda Dunsmore of Linda Goes East
“I often refer to China as ‘my first love’, because it’s the first place abroad where I moved to. After having spent 2 years learning the language and then another 1.5 years living and working in China, I’ve since moved to South Korea. However, I love to return to China every chance I get. I especially like to visit Beijing, because it’s a convenient layover spot on a flight back home to Germany.
“During one of my most recent visits to Beijing, I travelled alone, as I often do. I was planning on exploring the various different Hutongs in Beijing and had my sightseeing tour all mapped out. However, as often happens in China, it turns out to be much harder to navigate because of the language barrier and overall business of Beijing. Luckily, I actually bumped into a friendly rickshaw driver who offered to take me all around the Hutongs for a small fee. I agreed, and it turned out to be a lovely ride! He not only took me around to see where Jackie Chan’s parents live, but also stopped by a lovely small teahouse when I told him I loved tea. I know for a fact that if I had ignored him and just walked by I would have never seen this side of Beijing. This experience has taught me that there are still friendly locals out there that actually care and want to show their hometown to foreign visitors, and not only make a quick buck and move on.”
Making Mozambican Memories
Kristin Addis of Be My Travel Muse
“One of my favourite solo travel experiences was in Mozambique. I was supposed to go with someone who dropped out at the last minute. Though I was pretty experienced with solo travelling, even in Africa, I hadn’t heard anything about Mozambique and what I read online sure didn’t help either. It didn’t seem like a place women often travelled alone. However, I decided I didn’t want to let fear hold me back from a trip I’d been looking forward to, so I went.
“My first night there I went to a dance party at an art gallery in the capital Maputo, which all of the online advice said to avoid at all costs. That advice – and all of the negative advice – would turn out to be wrong. The rest of my trip I spent hopping around beaches, swimming with whale sharks, hanging out in hammocks, drinking coconuts every day, and meeting some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met on my travels. It still stands out in my mind as a favourite travel memory. The best part is I’m still great friends with the guys I met travelling there; a few of us have even travelled to several other continents together. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the advice that said not to travel to Mozambique alone. It was one of the best trips I’ve taken.”
Discovering My Path
Marta Rus of A Girl Who Travels
“It all started when I quit my office job to spend 6 months travelling solo through India and East Asia. Having used pretty much any mode of transport available – from water rafts and camels to overnight trains and tuk-tuks – I ended up in Varkala, a gorgeous coastal town in Kerala. There, I befriended a group of Americans, and one of them who I got on with particularly well, invited me to her home in NYC.
“A few months and a complete change of scenery later – the soothing sounds of the Arabian Sea replaced with the energy of New York – I was strolling through Manhattan, completely entranced by the city. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to keep NYC, and that feeling, for myself. My desire was so strong that I decided to give up on the idea of getting a full time job back in the UK, and instead I started working freelance. This allowed me to live and work pretty much anywhere in the world, feeding my passion for travel and creating opportunities for myself that I could have only dreamt of before my trip to India.”
Finding My ‘Soul Country’
Olga Maria Czarkowski of Dreams in Heels
“Soon after relocating abroad, I decided to visit Turkey. Basically, my family and friends were super scared about my decision (especially as a solo female!) but that trip changed my life. I learned that not everything you hear or read in the news is necessarily completely accurate; sometimes, things are exaggerated for other reasons. I honestly felt so safe and happy in Turkey. I learned about compassion, how people can be so helpful, hospitable and courteous – even to strangers – and that a simple smile is so powerful! But most importantly, Google Translate is a life saver! Not everyone spoke English, but they were still friendly. I used the same precautions I would in any big city; I guess as a New Yorker, it’s instinctive. I connected so deeply with this country and its people that I almost immediately started calling Turkey, ‘my soul country’. Originally, I planned to stay 10 days but suddenly that expanded to over 2 months. I loved Turkey that much!
“Solo travel is about self-discovery, while also learning from others, which makes you more aware of what’s happening around you. It’s all about embracing your fears, revelling in the moments shared and appreciating the magic of the local people.”
Doing What You Gotta Do
Lisa Eldridge of Girl About The Globe
“I had arrived in Istanbul after an overnight bus journey from the magical Cappadocia. I was tired, having not had the best night sleep on a Turkish bus, and made my way to the nearest bathroom.
“I desperately needed a shower, and washing my hands in a rather worse for wear toilet in Istanbul bus station, I contemplated putting my dirty feet in the sink. Having come straight off a night bus, I needed to clean them, but there was an old Turkish lady standing beside me who I recognised from the bus. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go with your instinct. ‘Just do it,’ I thought, and placed my foot in the sink just as she did at exactly the same time. We both looked at each other, pointed at our feet and smiled. What a great moment!”<
Seeing The Real Iran
Kamila Napora of Kami & The Rest Of The World
“Iran has been my dream destination for years. When I finally was brave enough to visit this unknown country, I had problems with getting the visa back home in Warsaw: the consul said he wouldn’t issue the visa for me, as a woman travelling solo in Iran is not common. I decided to go anyway, but get the visa on arrival this time – and it worked out just fine.
“Iran turned out to be a great destination with some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. For most of the time I felt very safe and taken care of, I can’t even count all the nice encounters with the locals, all the invitations I got from them. One of the most memorable stories happened when the driver of the overnight bus from Tehran to Shiraz pulled over next to his house in some random village and invited me and two other passengers for breakfast. When I compared my solo experience in Iran with my friends’ who travelled in groups, I knew I made the right choice by going on my own, as this way I could see and get to know the real Iran.”
Discovering The Power Of A Smile
Amanda Williams of A Dangerous Business
“The year was 2012, and I was in the midst of my very first trip to Europe – a trip I was doing alone with a backpack, much to my parents’ horror. I was getting on a train that would take me from Split, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia and was a little nervous to be taking such a long journey on my own. I found an empty seat, and began lifting my backpack up into the overhead bin. An older woman who had been sitting a few rows back immediately popped up to help me, using the universal language of a smile. And then she sat down in the seat in front of me and stayed there until she got off the train. When she got up to leave before we reached Zagreb, she turned around, took one of my hands between both of hers, and just squeezed it.
“As a solo traveller, you hear all the time that people around the world are kind. But this was the first time I truly experienced pure kindness from a stranger. That woman and I never spoke to one another, and yet I knew she was watching out for me. It’s an encounter I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”